Sophia Spencer has done more by the age of eight than most of us will in our lifetimes.
Spencer, who lives in Canada, was one of two authors of an article published earlier this month in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America. She and Morgan Jackson, an entomologist who works at the Insect Collection at the University of Guelph in Ontario, wrote about the importance of social media in making science more accessible to the public.
It all started about a year ago when Spencer’s mother wrote to the Entomological Society of Canada asking if there was anyone who could encourage her daughter to take an interest in insects. Sophia’s classmates at school made fun of her when she spent her time playing with bugs, and her mother feared that this would discourage her daughter from following her passions.
The hashtag # BugR4girls rumored to be on Twitter after the Entomological Society of Canada used it to generate responses for Spencer. Jackson, who manages the company’s social media accounts, has been floored by the attention, according to the Toronto Star. He decided to publish an article describing how social media platforms like Twitter can bring attention to entomology, and asked Spencer to be a co-author.
In the article, Jackson meticulously analyzes the engagement the company got from its initial tweet and discusses other online conversations the tweet started, including around including more women in STEM and how scientists can talk about their work with a lay audience. Spencer’s contribution describes her experience with the entomologists who contacted her. She writes:
My favorite bugs are snails, slugs, and caterpillars, but my favorite is grasshoppers. Last year in the fall I had a bug best friend and his name was Hoppers. When I first discovered Hoppers, I was a little scared because it was my first time holding a grasshopper. When I grabbed him he pissed on me, and I thought he bit me and it was my blood, so I threw him out and he landed somewhere on the stairs, but I found him and I was still a little scared, but I realized he still loved me, like it was just a way to see if I was going to hurt him! I would find it on the porch, or on the roof of my bug cage, or on the side and that would be really funny. And then I gave him a little drop of water, which was really cool. I really like being an insect expert, but a lot of kids in school kill grasshoppers, especially the big kids in my old school…
It was good to have so many people supporting me, and it was cool to see other girls and adults studying bugs. It made me feel like I could do that too, and I really, really, really want to study insects when I grow up, probably grasshoppers… If someone said insects weren’t for girls , I would be really mad at them… I think anything can be for anyone including bugs.
She also says the kids at school have changed their minds about her. They now think she’s cool and want to share her microscope to watch the bugs up close. Spencer also said she was recognized while on the go, which makes her feel good “even though [she’s] not supposed to talk to them because they are strangers.
Spencer’s story is emblematic of how Twitter has enabled scientists to reach outside of their academic circles. Last year Quartz wrote about Nancy Miorelli, an entomologist currently working in the Ecuadorian cloud forest, who uses Twitter to share photos of herself with huge bugs on her face to generate public interest. . And then there is the account @realscientists, who asks a different researcher each week to answer questions about their field of study.
Since its publication less than two weeks ago, Spencer and Jackson’s article has become one of the most popular to ever appear in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America, according to Altmetric. Hopefully she’s heading for a long and fulfilling career studying grasshoppers.
Correction: An earlier version of this article said that Sophia was nine; she is still eight years old.